PLEASANTVILLE, N.Y.— Young athletes across the country are always trying to reach their full potential.
This was the theme at the Youth Athlete Symposium sponsored by Northern Westchester Hospital on Thursday, Oct. 20, at Athletes Warehouse in Pleasantville. Several sports medicine and kinesiology professionals were in attendance to make presentations.
The keynote speaker was Patrick Murphy, who is the University of Alabama head softball coach and has won a national championship along with making 10 Women’s College World Series appearances. He’s also won five Southeastern Conference championships.
The nine insightful speakers advised children and their parents on healthy ways to develop skill, endurance and comfort for the youth athlete.
“We pride ourselves on being a youth training facility,” said Cassie Reilly-Boccia, director of research and development at Athletes Warehouse and a Yorktown graduate. “What we try to do first and foremost is look at an athlete and say how to prevent your injury. If we can prevent your risk of injury, we are automatically maximizing your performance.”
Dr. Eric Small, who specializes in pediatric sports medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital, focused his segment on preventing and managing stress fracture and overuse injuries.
“One hundred percent of stress fractures are preventable,” Small said. “The definition of a stress fracture is too much training and not enough recovery. The best example is a ninth-grader who never did cross country and had not done any running. Week one, he runs 20 miles and starts to get shin pain. And the second week he can't run and develops the stress fracture. Ideally, six weeks prior he should be running two to three times a week to build up to that.”
The opening speaker, Dr. Victor Khabie, who is the chief of orthopedic surgery at Northern Westchester Hospital, discussed concussion management and sport specialization in children.
“A concussion is a traumatic brain injury,” Khabie said. “It is serious stuff. It damages brain cells and leads to chemical changes in the brain. It also changes mental status and alertness. They have dramatically increased over the past decade. Children and teens have a higher incidence of concussions and also take longer to recover. It is very important to understand that in taking care of youth athletes.”
Several types of overuse injuries may result from too much energy on a single sport.
“Usually, the kids who I see get injured are only playing one sport year-round,” Khabie said. “They are specializing in not only one sport, but at a specific position. They are subject to the exhausting forces on their growing body all the time.”
Nicholas Serio, general manager of Athletes Warehouse, reflected on how the facility offers something very different from a gym-like atmosphere.
“The most important takeaway from us is our mission statement,” Serio said. “We are really trying to re-define the way people look at training the youth athlete. Our goal in opening this was hopefully that nobody ever called us a gym. We wanted to be a safe haven for youth athletes, parents, coaches and doctors to know they are sending their athlete through a facility where our number one mission is to make sure we are pushing the most evidence-based research approach towards our athletes.”
Dr. Peter Richel, chief of pediatrics at Northern Westchester Hospital, proceeded to convince the audience that resting is a more vital part of life than many believe. He also spoke about early child development and how play and creativity are essential from infancy through childhood.
“Overbooking is really unhealthy,” Richel said. “We need break time. They are children. They need to play. And if they play, they need to rest. It extends to youngsters up through age 21. Ten hours of sleep is ideal at any age.”
Murphy made the special trip for former Alabama player and Yorktown graduate Reilly-Boccia, who was on the 2012 national championship team for the Crimson Tide.
“If I was a youth in this area my butt would be here (often),” Murphy said. “They would have to kick me out. This is a special place and I believe in culture, and the culture here is unbelievable.”
Reilly-Boccia feels joyful to bring all of the knowledge she gained from four years at Alabama and two years from the University of Iowa.
“I had the really cool opportunity to not just meet people but to see how athletic development was done in different parts of the country,” Reilly-Boccia said. “I wanted so badly to come home because I knew there was such a need for the knowledge to be shared in the community. It's been an unbelievable blessing to be able to come home and be with family while also doing something I love.”
Other speakers at the event included Sarah Todd, Northern Westchester Hospital's manager of outpatient rehabilitation; Dr. Chari Hirshson, director of neuropsychology and concussion management; and Stuart Elkowitz, orthopedic surgeon.
“I really liked the stress management (parts of each presentation),” said Shannon Becker, a Mahopac Middle School eighth grade softball player. “I also liked the injury (parts) because I had a concussion and came off an ankle sprain two weeks ago.”
Murphy provided some valuable coaching advice which can be applied for any sport or type of physical activity.
“I am a firm believer in capturing kids' hearts,” Murphy said. “If you have capture a kid's heart, she will do whatever you want her to do.”